Optimizing the Yankees’ Lineup

Granderson delivered in a new spot

With all this lineup talk the past few days, I think it’s time for me to get my say in. Last night, Joe Girardi’s decision to move Curtis Granderson from the top of the order to sixth paid immediate dividends, as the Grandy Man slugged a three-run home run and had a total of four RBIs. Curtis had been hitting mainly in the in the second slot the majority of the season, but lately leadoff in order to separate him and Robinson Cano (two straight lefties) in the lineup.

Did this seem like a panic move? On the surface, yes. The Bombers had lost 12 of 18, and Granderson was hitless in his first 10 at bats of the series. So, changing the lineup with Curtis being the focal point of the alteration sure smelled of panic. Of course, Girardi will never tell anyone how he really felt going into the change. Moreover, there was some actual logic to the move.

Last night, the lineup went as follows: Jeter, Swisher, Cano, Teixeira, Chavez (DH), Granderson, Martin, Suzuki, McGehee. This of course is not the normal lineup against a right hand pitcher, considering Ibanez got the day off.

What I would probably expect is Granderson and Ibanez hitting fifth and sixth (or vice versa) from here on out. To break up the lefties, Martin would remain at seventh, while Chavez and Ichiro (back to back lefties again) would round out the lineup. However, for today’s lineup, Girardi is batting four lefties in a row (Chavez, Granderson, Ibanez, Ichiro from five thru eight). If Martin was catching over Stewart, I’d suspect Martin eight and Ichiro nine. Now, this may seem like too many lefties stacked in the lineup, but the reality is that Girardi has weapons in Andruw Jones and Casey McGehee, both who historically hit lefties well, on the bench for a lefty reliever.

Against lefties, I would anticipate a batting order of the same first four, followed by Granderson, Jones (DH), McGehee, Martin, Ichiro. This lineup stacks righties, but again, if a righty reliever is brought in, Girardi always has Ibanez and Chavez off the pine.

So, does this make sense? Absolutely. While Granderson had been doing a fine job at the top of the order until recently, his offensive value is better optimized in the heart of the order. This season, 20 of his 30 home runs have been hit with the bases empty, a product of batting second. Now, you might say that the lineup only matters the first time through the order, but this is simply not true. In the first inning, at most he could have come to the plate with Jeter on base. Every other time around the order, the odds were slim as well because there were (and would continue to have been had he remained second) low OBP guys (i.e. Russell Martin, Ichiro) closing out the bottom of the lineup before it turned over to Jeter and Granderson. Now, he is sure to have plenty of men on base with him at the plate from here on out. Take a look at the OBPs for a projected top four of Jeter, Swisher, Cano, Teixeira: .357, .349, .339, .373. Martin and Ichiro? .308 and .279.

Moving Swisher up to the two-hole will also give additional opportunities to not only Granderson, but Cano and Teixeira as well. While Curtis walks slightly more than Swish (11.9% vs. 11.2% BB%), Nick’s higher batting average (.265 against .244) puts his OBP of .349 higher than Granderson’s .338. This isn’t a great difference, but combined with the fact that Granderson is a better fit in the middle of the order, it certainly provides some of the other big bats additional RBI opportunities.

How will the lineup look when A-Rod gets back? As a guess: Jeter, Swisher, Cano, Rodriguez, Teixeira, Granderson, Ibanez/Jones (DH), Martin, Ichiro. Personally, I would move Teixeira to clean up, Granderson fifth, and Rodriguez sixth. It not only breaks up the lefties (although there is always the pinch hit for Ibanez option), but Granderson is clearly a bigger force than Rodriguez at this stage in their careers. I doubt that would happen though, given Rodriguez’ reputation.

Many studies have shown that batting orders don’t matter much, but if you’re interested in different theories of assembling a batting order, check out The Book by Tom Tango, which Chris has referenced in a previous article. Specifically, chapter five discusses how best to assemble an order. You can read a preview of the chapter here.

There’s also a neat lineup analysis tool that Chris showed me, where you can plug in a lineups wOBA and SLG%, and the tool will spit out lineups that have the highest and lowest runs per game. I’ve already plugged in the data (including A-Rod instead of Chavez for playoff purposes) for you here. Now, you’ll see the lineups are quite radical for some of the optimal ones, so take it for what it’s worth. You can also see the runs per game for the best and worst lineups aren’t much different. While 5.2 runs per game vs. 5.0 runs per game doesn’t seem like a big deal, over a 162 game season there is a 32 run difference, which could make the difference in a few games. Again, take it with a grain of salt as this tool doesn’t account for injuries, needed rest, and of course it is radical in nature.

Although Girardi looked like a genius last night, no lineup change is ever going to to boost a team’s runs per game drastically over the long run. There may be some marginal differences that may swing a couple of games throughout the remainder of the season, which in itself is makes the Granderson and Swisher swap worthwhile.

Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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